Wednesday, September 07, 2016

My Take on Young and Vivacious

It's been a really long time since I was called young and vivacious. In fact, I don't think I have ever been called vivacious because that is mainly for women. Thus,  using the term vivacious is sexist. Is it sexist to note someone looks young for the job he or she has? I don't think so. To me it is a complement along the lines of "you must be really accomplished to have this position at such a young age."

These issues have come up at my law school because the Dean wrote an article in which the decidedly  first world problem of being referred to as young and vivacious  became something of deep importance. She, in effect, named names. It was so important that she wrote:
"Even more so, I would love to hear [Frug's] thoughts on what those statements mean about current constructions of law professors, law school deans, and the legal academy as a whole."  It's all covered over on Above the Law in an uncharacteristically reasonable way.

ATL does a good job in one respect and an OK job in another. First, it notes that whatever points there were to be made could have been made without identifying the sources of the "hurtful" words. In fact, if the language really reflects on "current constructions of law professors, law school deans, and the legal academy as a whole" naming names is irrelevant. On the other hand, have you ever heard the statement that goes something like like "what goes around . . ."  There is a bit of irony or karma here and it takes some explaining.

Given the timing of the legal publication, I suspect she wrote her own "hurtful" words at virtually the same time as the incident occurred and perhaps would have second thoughts about whether the statements really had implications that stretched to the legal academy as a whole. A bigger sample than 2 might have been useful.

As it turns out, though,  if I have my timing and facts right, after writing those words and before the publication of the article,  the two people named have, in my view, done the most to prevent the Dean from addressing the many issues that need to be addressed to give students the best possible law school and post law school experience. In a sense there may have been reverse justice. She wrote the words and then later the culprits earned them. One could say justice works in mysterious ways.

ATL does a so so job when reacting to the criticisms of the Dean. Evidently she has been cited for almost slandering beloved people who are all around good guys. ATLs' response, before it spirals into a rant in favor of more political correctness than most can stand without throwing up, is how empty defenses based on likability or reputation are when people screw up. If you have convinced others that you are a great, moral, and tolerant person then by definition, you can do no harm. Obviously one does not follow from the other and perception that people are great, moral, and tolerant can be deceiving. I am more inclined to make those decisions after seeing what people do when others are not looking rather than what they do for public consumption.


Michelle Jacobs said...

I will have to disagree with you dear colleague. As you say the ATL author did address the multiple comments attesting to the student's character, quite correctly pointing out that good people can do things that are quite improper. But the part of the article you say spirals into a rant in factor (favor?) of more political correctness, is the section of the article which talks about the impropriety of a dean singling out a student at her school in a way that publicly identifies and vilifies him. That was inappropriate. I would also challenge to rethink the timeline of sequences, We all know that an author has many opportunities to edit an accepted piece before it is published. The dean could have made the comment without identifying the student. To anyone not wrapped in her sphere the identification of the student seems gratuitous and vindictive.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Thanks, I realize there were opportunities to revise the article and she did not. That is some cause for concern but the concern is in the context of what is clearly a first world dust up. Words like "vilifies" and "vindictive" seem over the top to me and especially inappropriate in the context of the behavior over the past year plus of the two individuals involved. I'd say she got pissed off and perhaps carried away, but vilify? Hardly. There are consequences when people are so out of bounds and a truthful recitation of the facts does not equal vilification. I wish she had not done it but I hope this does not devolve into an opportunity to complain by people who are actually upset about other things.

By the way, I interpret the PC rant as supporting the dean in calling out sexist statements (which by the way again I do not see that she expressly did) and not letting it pass in response to a possible charge that she is being too PC. It is only in passing and at the end that the expression of concern about naming names seems to come up. In fact, the author suggests that there will be a tendency to "bristle" at the attach -- as you do -- rather than address the issue. I actually think bristling is fine and that is why I find the PC rant defensive and unnecessary.

Michelle Jacobs said...

I don't think vilify is over the top. In today's work environment, painting a new lawyer as "sexist" could have a dramatic impact on how that person is viewed by potential employers. The costs are high for the student and the dean should have realized that. A real leader of an institution would have used the incident AND the apology that followed as a teaching moment. She could have thought about pulling the community together, rather than heightening the divide that she herself created. I cannot agree that the behaviors of either my colleague or the student were so outlandish as to justify her actions. Did she have 1st Amendment right to speak - yes of course. But to use the event of commemorating Professor Frug to demonstrate that she was annoyed...I'm sorry.. that seems petty to me. I get it that others, including yourself may not think so, but there are those in the community who think as we do. And frankly, no matter what disagreement professionals may have, it is the dean's job to find a solution that reduces harm to the school, not heighten it. So, we will have to agree to disagree, in my opinion, regardless of what the actions over the course of the year might have been, the leader of the community must always take the high road and that did not happen here.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I see no indication she has abused or defamed anyone. So unless there is a different definition of vilify, we do disagree. But please, don't get me wrong. I wish there could be a do-over or someone advising her not to do it. The number of unforced errors is mounting up. You know I understand that.

I just feel more forgiving toward a first time dean who is doing all she can and has been charged with cleaning up the mess the last administration left. My gauge is: "Is this better than what we survived for 10 years and is it better than what central campus would choose for us if those who want to are successful in running her off."(Remember their wish list for us during the first search.) My answer is yes. Far from perfect but better.

I also agree that it is best if change can be a collaborative process. When the faculty has collaborated in the past it has usually been to the detriment of the students and stake holders -- scuttling program reviews, crazy foreign programs, an obsolete tax program, CGR doing God knows what other than flying people thousands of miles to make 10 minute presentations, adjuncts hired based on who they know and regardless of their evaluations, students writing as many as 4 papers to be on a review, faculty tenure meetings at which irrelevant and unreliable evidence was presented, an externship program that may or may not have been supervised, (I'll stop now for fear of clogging up the internet). In two areas -- law review and tax -- bad and self interested habits were so entrenched that change could not be bloodless. This specific blood was unnecessary but any general call for faculty collaboration causes me to fear a return to the worst ten years of my professional life. I am happy to take the mishaps to avoid the catastrophe the school was before she arrived.

Anonymous said...


Jeffrey Harrison said...

Anon: thanks. Where is spell check when you need it.

Anonymous said...

Anon, again.

I read it as "the young and vacuous."

Anonymous said...

I really don't see any place for a dean to "punch down" by criticizing a student in an article. The dean's first obligation ought to be to promote the interests of the law school the dean was hired to lead. What kind of leadership is this? Very poor leadership, in my view. What are the substantive actions that have been taken to address issues of gender bias in the law school? Are they effective? It would have been much better for the academic law community to see something published about such effective measures instead of seeing the dean take the easy way out by substituting pettiness and self-pity for actual feminism.

If we have come to the point where the faux-pas of student saying "young and vivacious" is fodder for martyr narratives, then it is time to re-examine where we are at in the pursuit of gender equality. I would hope that all believers in substantive feminism would take the dean to task for a feminist narrative that has all the depth of an Amy Schumer skit.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Thanks for your honestly thoughtful comments. I do not know if gender equality is a problem at the law school or in legal education generally. For what it's worth the entire staff of associate deans at the UF law school are women appointed by the current dean.It is also worth noting that the dean refused to label anyone sexist.